Here’s a question for you. What do you get when you bring together two all-time greats from different sports and ask them to create a piece of contrived #content for a sports broadcaster?
Answer: in this case at least, you get something that’s actually kind of endearing. And thought-provoking.
Voice Notes is a video series from Eurosport in which “famous voices” throw questions at English snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan via audio recordings. Among those famous voices: the one and only Chris Froome, four-time Tour de France winner, seven-time Grand Tour winner, and late-career journeyman turned YouTuber who almost won the Alpe d’Huez stage of last year’s Tour.
“Hi Ronnie, Chris Froome here,” Froome’s recording begins. “Please ignore my ignorance …”
“Chris Froome!” O’Sullivan exclaims over the still-playing voice memo, throwing in an overhead finger snap for emphasis. “Legend!”
“I’ve always wondered watching snooker players play, what kind of training do you need to get to the top of your game?” Froome continues. “I know there’s obviously the mental side, the mental preparation. What kind of physical training is generally involved in your day-to-day life?”
I like to imagine Froome leaning against a marble benchtop in his meticulously clean Monaco apartment, hitting stop on his recording, and sending it off to a Eurosport producer. Already in full kit, he clips and clops downstairs to his garage, wheels a Factor Ostro VAM outside, and sets off for a four-ride ride in the hills behind Nice.
I imagine Froome, gazing intently at his GPS unit, thinking about the message he’s just sent. How it was the first question that sprung to mind when asked to send something; how he didn’t think much of it. But the more he starts to think about it, the more he starts to wonder …
On the receiving end of Froome’s recording, O’Sullivan is chuffed. “He’s a serious dude this fella, inn’t he?”, O’Sullivan opines in the video, his Essex accent in full flight. “Wow. Chris Froome.” O’Sullivan is surprisingly starstruck for a bloke who has Barack Obama’s number in his phone.
For those with even a passing interest in snooker, O’Sullivan needs no introduction. For everyone else, it’s probably worth a moment to get up to speed.
Simply put, O’Sullivan is the greatest player the snooker world has ever seen. He makes an incredibly difficult game look simple, he plays fluently with both hands – a rarity – and he has a history of playing at lightning speed, earning him the nickname “The Rocket”.
Despite several pauses during his long, tumultuous career, O’Sullivan boasts a CV with a record-breaking 39 ranking titles (the top tournaments in the sport, and those which determine player rankings). Among those 39 ranking titles are seven World Championships – the equal record, alongside another legend of the game (and now YouTuber), Stephen Hendry.
At 47 years old, O’Sullivan is the current world #1, thanks in no small part to winning last year’s World Championships (see highlights above). And as it just so happens, he’s currently taking part in the 2023 World Championships in Sheffield, where he’s about to start his second-round match.
It turns out O’Sullivan is a cycling fan.
“Chris, thanks for the message mate,” he says, beginning his reply to Froome. “Followed your career mate, unbelievable mate. You’re a machine. You are an absolute machine. One of the all-time greats in my book mate so yeah, thanks for the message.”
The man-love is almost palpable. O’Sullivan seems to realise it’s all a bit much and forces himself back on track. “Right, physical stuff for snooker.”
O’Sullivan explains that snooker is “not really a physical game”; that it’s more of a mental game. That he finds running to be the ideal way of clearing the mind “for when you go back to the snooker table”.
“I think it would be advisable just to clear your head and I would do the equivalent of a 20-minute run every day,” he says. “It’s long enough to get a bit of a sweat on, but short enough to not overdo it and kind of leave yourself knackered for when you have to play snooker.
“I’m more into running than I am actually [into] snooker,” he tells Froome with a laugh. “I have been for the last 15-20 years. But it helps me because it’s a bit of a distraction away from the snooker and it helps me just have a better perspective on things.”
And then the love-in continues.
“Hope that makes sense, mate, and good luck with whatever you’re doing,” O’Sullivan says. “But yeah, loved your smashing them up them mountains mate, brilliant. Take it easy. Ciao ciao.”
The Eurosport video ends with O’Sullivan talking to an off-screen producer (possibly Orla Chennaoui, who covers cycling and snooker for Eurosport). O’Sullivan’s been asked whether he’d ever fancy a ride with Froome.
“I couldn’t go on a bike ride with him – you’re having a laugh inn’t ya?” he says, maybe – it’s hard to tell from his accent and the way he smashes his words together. “Maybe I’d go in the car, I could chat to him. Get me one of them electric bikes […] and if Froomey wants me, I’m coming up there. I’m coming up whatever they call that mountain – Alps d’Huez [sic].
“But yeah, I’d love to go on a bike ride with Froome. Maybe I’ll take him out on a run. I’m sure he can run forever as well.”
Maybe sharing a run is how the Froome x O’Sullivan bromance continues. Or maybe Froome’s got other ideas …
In my mind, when Froome receives O’Sullivan’s reply he’s sat on a plush, beige couch in his Monaco apartment, feet up on a mahogany coffee table, the pleasant ache in his legs reminding him of a hard ride just completed.
He’s staring out over the Côte d’Azur, thinking about how the whole pro cyclist caper is all just getting a bit too hard. How he gave his comeback a red-hot crack, had that Alpe d’Huez podium, but that, sometime soon, it’s going to be time for something else. Something a little less physically demanding, but something to scratch that competitive itch that’s still there, burning inside him. A sport where he can lean on his mental fortitude, forged through years at the top (and bottom) of his game in one of the world’s toughest sports.
His phone dings. He plays O’Sullivan’s voice message. A few hours later he’s down at the local snooker club, peering through the gloomy light at pockets and baize, visions of a post-cycling career blooming to life in his head.
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